A brief history of the Common Grave in Oviedo

The evolution of politics in Asturias (NW Spain) seems to be closely associated to the month of October : It was in October 1934 when the workers' Revolution threatened the deepest foundations of power, while in October 1937 the most shameful episode of the Civil War started, only to be followed by the horrible fascist  repression by General Franco's troops in Oviedo. This would also finish in October, but this time in 1952: at the end, 1,316 identified corpses of Republican freedom fighters, or simply leftist men and women, filled up a huge Common Grave,  executed after having been court-martialed in a theatrical farce. Most of them were identified, but more than a hundred people ended up in the Common Grave without even knowing who they were. In this case, we can read in their files: "coming from prison"  or "red fellow". It was enough.

The Oviedo Common Grave is actually situated in the municipal cemetery, but for long years thick stone walls separated it from the Catholic part. Only in 1970 was that shameful wall pulled down, thus communicating both parts of the graveyard. The Grave is about 21 metres long and 12 mt. wide, but its real depth is still a secret.  However, the great number of corpses who were thrown there from 1937 to 1952, makes us think that it must be really deep. At the bottom of the Grave lies the spirit of the Revolutionary Asturias, which suffered the most savage and merciless persecution for defending ideas of revolution, freedom and democracyThat memory is still fresh in our minds. Many of the corpses were taken alive to the outer wall of the graveyard and murdered right there, on a place overlooking the Aramo Mountain Range; a place usually forgotten, but not by the widows and orphans who were left behind, and nor for their descendants. The flowers that the relatives of the murdered left on the place of execution were often kicked and walked all over by fascist soldiers on horseback. Those who were as unfortunate as surviving the firing squad were buried still alive, without a coup de grâce, covered with quicklime, and often with limbs protruding; those limbs were quickly devoured by starving dogs and ravens. The cries of pain of those who hadn't died yet could be easily heard in the neighbourhood.

Others had been kidnapped -even after the end of the war- taken far from their homes and executed somewhere, their corpses being then piled up in trucks, leaving trails of blood along the streets of Oviedo, and taken to the Common Grave to close dark and often anonymous episodes. And we shouldn't forget that not all the victims of the fascist repression in Oviedo are in the grave: A great many Republicans simply disappeared and died "unofficially", having been killed by soldiers and fascist civilians alike, without any written record, with a shameful impunity and with the complicity of the authoritiesMany corpses haven't been found or identified yet.

Not all the Republican fighters "officially" killed were thrown into the Common Grave, because those who agreed to receive communion and confess before being executed were given a grave in the Catholic graveyard. The total figure of Republicans or just leftist people murdered in Oviedo or its surroundings between 1937 and 1952, adding the "repentant" ones who confessed, amounts to more than 1,600 people. Furthermore there are as many as 12 individual graves next to the Common one, of victims executed between 1948 and 1952, and besides, a few corpses were taken out of the Common Grave following their relatives' wishes to bury them in their home towns. On the other hand, there are bodies in the Grave who didn't have anything to do with the Republic, but ended up in the same place, just like the others: some fascist soldiers executed for rebellion or aggressions to higher-ranking officers, or even civilians accused of armed robbery or murder. These facts point out that not all the corpses in the grave belong to political victims of Franco, and not all the political victims of Franco in Oviedo are in the Common Grave, either.

Just as bodies started to fill the grave, a tragical game started: the grief-stricken relatives who wanted to visit the tomb of their loved ones had to avoid the presence of the Civil Guards who kept watch on the access to the grave, turning simple funeral rites of leftist victims into something against the law. It was forbidden to get close to the grave, it was forbidden to cry and remember. Even the flowers had to be thrown over the wall onto the grave from the outer part of the graveyard, as the gate of the civil cemetery was always closed. Widows who had husband and sons buried there, were violently repelled by the merciless Civil Guards. Only after a long time was the hatred of the authorities towards anything or anyone related to the Republic soothed and calmed down. Little by little, visits to the grave started to be allowed. Little by little, keeping memories of the past was not a crime.

Thus in 1967, some relatives of the victims (showing considerable courage if we take into account that Spain was still a military dictatorship), made a request for a stone surround to be built, just like the one that can be seen nowadays. As the City Hall refused to help, they published an advertisement in the local newspapers, saying that an account had been opened for anybody who wanted to cooperate with them. No doubt it would have been a great achievement for that time to set the limits of the grave within the cemetery. It would have been the first tribute to the victims. Of course, the answer of the pro-Franco authorities was categorically negative, and the account was automatically cancelled. Anyway, this proof of courage deserves to be remembered, and today a rim of stones surrounds the limits of the grave as a tribute both to the victims and to their relatives.

Living in a democracy, on the eve of the Day of the Spanish Republic (April 14th) in 1986, the monument now set in the centre of the Common Grave was inaugurated. You can see it in the picture on the left. It's a monument dedicated to the defenders of the Republic, and to the Popular Front in Asturias. Before the inauguration, some coward, despicable and schizophrenic supporter of Franco had a good time throwing paint over the inscription the relatives of the victims had set in their memory. But life and history never stop, and actions like this are now seen as mere anecdotes of intransigence

The last and most important tribute to the victims came on the Day of the Republic in 2001: thanks to the the hard work and determination of the Board of the Association of Relatives and Friends of the Common Grave, huge marble slabs were set on the walls surrounding the grave, containing the names, ages and origins of those whose data are officially known, and who are there for having defended ideals of Republic and Freedom. It was a moving and a praiseworthy act which, after long years of darkness, restores the honour and the memory of those who died for defending their ideas against blind fanaticism. More information and pictures, HERE.

The present and future of the Common Grave has two important dates along the year, days when this grave shines full of life and colour: All Souls’ Day and (of course!) the Day of the Republic. On both days, relatives and friends and the victims pay homage and show a never-ending fidelity, covering the grave with innumerable bunches of flowers and waving Republican flags, in memory of that Spain which believed in freedom and democracy, and which was killed by fascism. Nowadays, more that 60 years have passed, but those times are still alive in all of us. We won't let time take those memories away from us. We may forgive, we should never forget.

To sum up, the Common Grave in the cemetery of Oviedo contains the bodies of men and women, young and old, executed all of them in different places of the Asturian capital and its surroundings, during the War and in the terrible fascist repression after the conflict. The Common Grave denounces the greatest shame a people can feel: the shame of a Civil War. After all, it is said that those who forget their history are forced to repeat it.